Rangers in a slow pur­suit

Mi­nor trade part of big pic­ture as Texas eyes Ja­panese star.

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Evan Grant Dal­las Morn­ing News

The Rangers made a mi­nor league trade Satur­day with ma­jor im­pli­ca­tions.

In essence, they an­nounced their off­sea­son strat­egy for re­tool­ing, rather than re­build­ing, the team. It all cen­ters on their pur­suit of the next great Ja­panese star, pitcher (and part-time DH) Sho­hei Otani.

Put it this way: It cer­tainly never cen­tered on Brallen Perez, the 21-year-old Class-A in­fielder they sent to the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles. In re­turn, they re­ceived flex­i­bil­ity. It is a most valu­able com­mod­ity head­ing into the win­ter.

From Bal­ti­more, the Rangers re­ceived the value of an in­ter­na­tional sign­ing bonus slot worth $500,000. It was the sec­ond in­ter­na­tional slot bonus they’ve ac­quired in the last five weeks. They also sent short­stop Yeyson Yrizarri to the Chicago White Sox in July for an undis­closed slot amount. That slot is ex­pected to be worth close to the $1.35 mil­lion bonus Yrizarri re­ceived in 2013. Add those sums to the re­main­ing money the Rangers had in their pool and they have more than $3 mil­lion still to spend on in­ter­na­tional prospects. They are be­lieved to have one of the largest amounts of cap room left.

“It just gives us more flex­i­bil­ity,” said as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager Josh Boyd, who was care­ful not to men­tion Otani. “We have a lot of faith in our in­ter­na­tional scout­ing guys. Given the na­ture of the mar­ket, it be­hooves us to have flex­i­bil­ity through­out the year.”

The way the in­ter­na­tional scout­ing process works, teams are given a pool “cap” of money they can spend with­out in­cur­ring penal­ties. In the Rangers’ case, the ini­tial amount was $4.75 mil­lion for the 2017-18 sign­ing pe­riod. Os­ten­si­bly, this money is used to sign Latin Amer­i­can teenagers. But most of those teens sign in the first week of the sign­ing pe­riod, which be­gins July 2. The Rangers spent about $3 mil­lion of their pool in that week.

It’s al­ways good to keep a bit of flex­i­bil­ity in case a deal falls through else­where or an un­ex­pected Cuban player shows up. But the Rangers had more than $1.5 mil­lion left when they started adding. And they may not be done.

“If there are op­por­tu­ni­ties to im­prove the club, we will con­tinue to try to do so,” Boyd said. “Our ex­pec­ta­tion is to con­tinue to stock­pile (tal­ent).”

Asked if the Rangers ex­pected to spend more big dol­lars on Latin Amer­i­can tal­ent, Boyd re­sponded: “In­ter­na­tional.”

All of this is code, of course, for Otani. The Rangers have been fo­cused on the 23-year-old Ja­panese star for years. It’s part of why they were only luke­warm about ne­go­ti­at­ing an ex­ten­sion for Yu Darvish and why they ul­ti­mately traded Darvish with­out so much as a sin­gle con­tract of­fer. Darvish turns 31 this month, and mega-in­vest­ments in pitch­ers past the age of 30 aren’t wise.

If Otani comes to the U.S. this win­ter — and that re­mains a big if — he will be sub­ject to the same re­stric­tions that Latin Amer­i­can teens are un­der. Teams will of­fer the $20 mil­lion max­i­mum post­ing fee. Otani would sign a mi­nor league con­tract with his “big” wind­fall be­ing the sign­ing bonus. That bonus comes from what­ever teams have left in their in­ter­na­tional pool.

The Rangers are po­si­tioned pretty well, it would seem. Eleven clubs, in­clud­ing the deep-pock­eted Dodgers and Cubs, are un­der re­stric­tions for over-spend­ing their pool last year and can’t of­fer a player a bonus of more than $300,000. An­other four or five clubs have spent the vast ma­jor­ity of their pool money.

This is all so un­prece­dented, though. Otani might — wink, wink, nod, nod — “pre­fer” a team’s lower bonus of­fer be­cause of its rich tra­di­tions and what­ever else, then sign a huge con­tract ex­ten­sion on his first day in the ma­jors.

All the Rangers can do is try to bet­ter po­si­tion them­selves. They have done that.

By all ac­counts, Darvish had a very pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence in Texas. Rangers of­fi­cials spent much of the last decade get­ting ac­quainted with and build­ing re­la­tion­ships in the Ja­panese base­ball com­mu­nity.

In the Ja­panese cul­ture, a high pri­or­ity is placed on re­spect­ful ges­tures. The full-page thank-you ad­ver­tise­ment the Rangers pur­chased in the na­tional Ja­panese sports pa­per, the Yomiuri Shimbun, for Sun­day’s editions was a sign of their re­spect for Darvish and for Ja­panese base­ball in gen­eral. It was a very re­spect­ful ges­ture.

Also re­spect­ful: cob­bling to­gether as much money as pos­si­ble for a po­ten­tial sign­ing bonus.

Which is why mi­nor moves for the Rangers these days are any­thing but.

GETTY IMAGES

The Rangers ap­pear to be stock­pil­ing in­ter­na­tional sign­ing bonus money for an even­tual pur­suit of 23-year-old Ja­panese star Sho­hei Otani (above, pitch­ing in 2015).

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